How to Recognize Implantation Cramps

Experiencing cramps? It may mean you’re pregnant! Here’s how to tell.
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Updated August 23, 2021
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If you have cramps, it’s easy to assume your period is to blame. But experiencing cramping before your period is due can actually be a sign you’re pregnant! They’re called implantation cramps, and despite the fact that most women don’t know they exist, they’re actually pretty common. So what is implantation cramping, how soon do you feel it after conception and where exactly is the pain located? Read on to learn everything you need to know.

What Is Implantation Cramping?

When an egg is fertilized, it happens in your fallopian tubes, explains G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, lead ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. The fertilized egg then travels to your uterus, where it will burrow into the lining. “This could cause you to experience minor cramping or twinges in the very low, mid-abdomen,” says Julie Lamppa, APRN, a certified nurse midwife at Mayo Clinic. This mild discomfort is also known as implantation cramping.

How soon can you feel implantation cramps?

If you’re wondering how soon you can feel implantation cramps after conception, we’re sorry to say there’s no definitive answer. Every woman is different, but implantation cramping generally occurs between day 20 and 22 from the first day of your last period if you have a 28-day cycle, Ruiz says. “You might think that your period is a little bit early,” he says. “There’s a sensation that your period is coming.”

So how long do implantation cramps last? Again, it varies, but usually you can expect that the cramping will last one to two days before wrapping up, Ruiz says.

What Do Implantation Cramps Feel Like?

Now that you know what they are and when to expect them, you may still be asking yourself: What do implantation cramps feel like? Implantation cramps are similar to period cramps, says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. You may experience some discomfort that comes and goes.

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Where do implantation cramps hurt?

If you can’t decide whether you’re experiencing tummy troubles, period pain or implantation cramps, you may be wondering where implantation cramps hurt. You’ll likely feel the cramps throughout your pelvis or more in the middle of your pelvis, Ruiz says, but they shouldn’t be overly intense. You may have some pain in your lower back and abdomen too. You generally won’t feel implantation cramps on one side only. “If you feel moderate to severe cramping or pain, especially if it’s located off to the side versus midline, you need to contact your provider,” Lamppa says. It could be nothing, but it could also be a sign of an early pregnancy loss or an ectopic pregnancy, which is a pregnancy that’s located outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, she says

Implantation cramps vs. period cramps

So how do you know if you’re experiencing implantation cramps vs. period cramps? It can be hard to distinguish between the two. The difference between implantation and PMS cramping is a positive pregnancy test, Ross says. However, “in comparison to menstrual cramps, implantation cramps should be shorter in duration and not as intense,” Lamppa says. “You may not experience cramping at all—or so minimal it’s barely noticeable. This is perfectly fine. It has no bearing on the success of your pregnancy.”

How to Ease Implantation Cramps

In general, “implantation cramps are usually mild and likely won’t need intervention,” Lamppa says. But if you’re uncomfortable, there are a few things you can do to get relief:

Take a warm bath or shower. The heat can help relax your uterine muscles and ease implantation cramps a bit, Ruiz says.

Use a heating pad. Any kind of warm compress on your pelvis can be helpful, Lamppa says. Yes, using a heating pad during pregnancy is safe, since it won’t cause your core temperature to spike. But to be safe, make sure the heating pad is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and use it on localized areas for short periods of time, say 10 to 15 minutes.

Take an OTC pain reliever. “If you need medication, acetaminophen is likely your safest option, Lamppa says. “It’s recommended to avoid medications such as Ibuprofen or Motrin early in pregnancy.”

Implantation cramping symptoms can also include some bleeding or spotting, which is normal, Ruiz says—but if your cramps are severe or you have really heavy bleeding, call your doctor. They may want to run some tests to see what’s going on.

What Are Other Signs of Implantation?

In addition to implantation cramps, there are some other subtle early signs of implantation to look for. Some women will experience light bleeding, frequent urination, breast soreness, fatigue, nausea, headaches and mood swings, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Of course, decoding these early signs of pregnancy can be tricky since many of them are similar to symptoms you may experience right before your period.

Still, if you’re generally in tune with your body, you may pick up on a few signs of implantation. Keep in mind though that there’s also a good chance you won’t feel anything at all during implantation.

When to Take a Pregnancy Test

Rather than question every tummy twinge and passing pelvic pain, it’s best to get confirmation with a pregnancy test. Unfortunately, this also means you may have to wait it out a wee bit longer to find out if you’re expecting.

You may be super-eager to pee on that stick (and ASAP), but you’ll want to time that fateful bathroom break just right. So how soon after implantation can you test? According to the American Pregnancy Association, implantation can happen about 6 to 12 days after an egg is fertilized. If you’re pregnant, this is when your body will start producing hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), the hormone a pregnancy test detects. It can take a few days for your body to produce enough hCG to be detectable via a pregnancy test, so waiting until after your missed period is the best way to limit the risk of a false reading. Can’t hold out? You’ll want to wait at least five days from the onset of those suspcious cramps. Testing early may lead to a false negative result—even if you’re actually pregnant.

If you’re actively trying to get pregnant, you may feel encouraged or even excited by some sudden mild pelvic discomfort—and, yes, you might be experiencing implantation cramps. Still, you shouldn’t fret or assume you’re not pregnant if you don’t feel anything at all. It can be confusing and frustrating, but a pregnancy test can provide clarity (and, hopefully, the confirmation!) you’re looking for.

About the experts:

Julie Lamppa, APRN, is a certified nurse midwife at Mayo Clinic. She also serves as a clinical instructor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.

Sherry Ross, MD, is an ob-gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. She received her medical degree from New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York.

G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, serves as lead ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. He received his medical degree from UC Irvine School of Medicine in California.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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